It struck me with some surprise that Sanzaar is currently deep in the midst of crafting its 2030 strategy, according to a document leaked to the Sydney Morning Herald last week.

It's a bold move for an organisation that appears to lack a 2018 strategy.

I'll admit to not having seen the 2030 document, but my Twitter direct messages are open if someone wants to send it to me. And that is partly the problem.

When I say Sanzaar has no 2018 strategy, I mean (apart from the flawed competition model, run across several timezones and countries) the distinct lack of any meaningful digital profile for Super Rugby online.


As a whole, the competition is woeful at promoting itself. It doesn't build up big matches or rivalries. Top players are often off-limits from media access. Even think about how often NRL boss Todd Greenberg appears in media compared to Sanzaar boss Andy Marinos. Greenberg's a constantly spinning PR machine for his sport, knowing the value of keeping it in the headlines even if some of the stories he comments on are less than savoury for the sport, he'll pop up in a media conference or high profile interview at least once a week or so.

Back to their digital profile, having a scroll of their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds it's a cavalcade of scorecards, three-day-old highlights or the inevitably bizarre Super Rugby team of the week which I can only assume is produced by someone who wasn't allowed to watch the weekend's games and instead told to pick from there. Across the three main social media channels of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter they have a combined fan total of more than a million people.

During a game there's no stunning quick highlights of stunning tries, big tackles, a scrum absolutely mowing down their opposition or the rare clutch drop goal. Moments that make rugby rugby.

The reason I write this column is on Saturday night, I was at a work function at the Warriors' game at Mount Smart Stadium but also keeping an eye on the Hurricanes and Lions for work purposes. My Twitter feed lit up when Ben Lam went over for one of his tries with people remarking on what an incredible play it was. Could I find it anywhere at the time? No. I eventually watched it the next morning when I got into work, some eight hours later.

The only place to find those moments digitally is post match through the official broadcasters or on the Super Rugby website well after the game, once the moment has gone and only as part of a three minute complication. Contrast this with the NRL, when a try is scored it's on its Twitter feed no more than two minutes later, sliced and diced and available for public consumption – whether it's a pay-walled game on Sky Television or Fox Sports in Australia and not geo-blocked. The NRL Bunker even has its own Twitter account for goodness sake, complete with videos on how they came to make their decisions.

The AFL has the same dominant presence online and so too the A-League, while Supercars has bossed digitally since day one and continue to do short highlight grabs and extra content.

Super Rugby's rivals leave it in its wake, which is even more bizarre given the fretting in recent years over crowd and TV numbers in every market, not to mention the competition flat-lining in Australia. With a revamped and supposedly more even competition this year with fewer teams, you'd think a competition under the pump would be throwing everything it could do promote itself. One suspects that the broadcasters themselves may be against serving up so much of their content so quickly online, given how much they shell out for the rights. However, Super Rugby is weirdly now becoming the exception to the rule.

Of course, the United States has been leading the way on this for years. NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL highlights of big plays are straight on Twitter. Usually accompanied with a handful of emojis or some hyped up phrase. They know where their market is and how to deliver. NBA commissioner Adam Silver delivered a fascinating interview with Strategy+Business last week in which he talked up the success of his league through non-conventional channels.


The whole interview is worth a read around game presentation, but when asked about the league's social media presence, Silver compared it to snacks versus meals. "If we provide those snacks to our fans on a free basis, they're still going to want to eat meals, which are our games...We believe that greater fan engagement through social media helps drive television ratings."

Silver sees it as free advertising for his sport. Every LeBron James dunk or Steph Curry buzzer beater is more people talking about the sport in a positive way. Imagine if Super Rugby had such an attitude. It might even - shock, horror - grow the game. A fan who sees a breathtaking try from Rieko Ioane on their timeline or a big hit from Liam Squire is probably one more likely to watch a full game the following week, buy a jersey or merchandise or hell, even go through the turnstiles to see it in person.

Super Rugby has supposed thoughts about heading to America as part of its 2030 document. Any sports league without a credible digital presence would barely make a footprint in the States. Before it begins about expansion it needs to re-engage its fans and it's not as simple as increasing derbies or unleashing a new marketing campaign. The first step towards 2030 should not be getting into bed America, it should be getting into bed with the 2010s.

Elliott Smith is a sports journalist and rugby commentator for Radio Sport.